Mi Heng

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Mi Heng
Born 173
Died 198 (aged 24–25)
Traditional Chinese 禰衡
Simplified Chinese 祢衡
Pinyin Mí Héng
Wade–Giles Mi Hêng
Courtesy name Zhengping (正平)
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Mi.

Mi Heng (173–198), courtesy name Zhengping (正平), was a scholar who lived in the late Eastern Han Dynasty. He was a talented scholar but possessed a haughty and unbending demeanour, and was often disrespectful, which eventually led to his early death. He was a native of Pingyuan County, Shandong.[1]


Mi Heng was a close friend of Kong Rong, twenty years his senior, and the two compared one another to Confucius and his disciple Yan Yuan.[2] When Mi Heng traveled to Xuchang, Kong Rong recommended him to Cao Cao in a letter which survives.[3]

Mi Heng was disrespectful towards Cao Cao and his men, insulting in particular General Zhao Rong (趙融) and Cao Cao's trusted adviser Xun Yu.[4] Cao Cao was angered, but feared killing him for the reprobation it might bring, and instead sent him away to Jingzhou to serve under Liu Biao.[5][6] Liu Biao treated him well, and the scholars in his employ marveled at his talent, but eventually Mi Heng angered Liu Biao too.

Liu Biao sent Mi Heng away to serve under Huang Zu. The Book of the Later Han, followed by the Zizhi Tongjian, claims Liu Biao chose Huang Zu specifically because of the latter's short temper.[7] Huang Zu and Mi Heng were initially polite, and Huang Zu's son Huang She (黃射) got along with Mi Heng extremely well, but when Mi Heng publicly embarrassed Huang Zu at a banquet on a mengchong, Huang Zu had him executed, and his son was unable to stop it.[8] The Book of the Later Han claims he later regretted the execution, and had Mi Heng reburied with honours.

One poem attributed to Mi Heng survives, the Rhapsody on Parrots.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

A number of stories detailing Mi Heng's insulting manner survive from traditional China. Perhaps the most famous is a story carried in the Book of the Later Han, where Cao Cao attempts to shame Mi Heng by making him a drum master to play at the imperial court. The previous drum master warned Mi Heng always to turn up dressed in fresh attire; however he arrived at the next court party dressed in shabby robes and played Triple Tolling of Yuyang, a poignant sad piece that reduced to tears all the guests. Halfway through the performance, a court attendant asked why he had not changed his clothes. Mi Heng stripped naked and continued playing without ever appearing ashamed. Cao Cao remarked that his attempt to shame Mi Heng had backfired on him.[10]

Another story carried by both the Book of the Later Han and Taiping Yulan describes Mi Heng sitting outside Cao Cao's command tent, banging on the ground with a branch and yelling out disparaging remarks about Cao Cao and his ancestors.[11][12] A third story describes Mi Heng's demeanour at Huang Zu's banquet, sitting and eating before his elders and those of higher rank, and playing with his food as soon as he had eaten his fill.[13]

Li Bai wrote a poem called Looking at Parrot Island, Remembering Mi Heng.[14] Parrot Island was the reputed burial site of Mi Heng.

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms[edit]

Cao Cao summoned Mi Heng to Xuchang but did not offer him a seat. Indignant at this, Mi Heng sighed, "In all this world, I can see not a single man!", Cao Cao overheard this, and named many officials under his command who he believed to be great heroes. Mi Heng scoffed at these men:

"The men you have mentioned are all known to me, only too well. Xun Yu is good for attending funeral ceremonies or the bedridden, Xun You for guarding graveyards. Cheng Yu would show remarkable talent in service as a gatekeeper, and Guo Jia's real talent lies in reading prose and reciting verse. Zhang Liao is equal to the task of tapping chimes and drums, Xu Chu for tending cattle and horses. Yu Jin can be employed carrying blocks and constructing walls, Xu Huang slaughtering pigs and dogs. Xiahou Dun should have the title 'Unscarred General' and Cao Ren 'Well-bribed Governor'. The rest are so many clothes racks, rice sacks, wine casks, meat sacks...".

When Mi was questioned about his talents he replied:

"I have mastered the patterns of heaven and the contours of the land. I know well the Three Religions and the Nine Systems of Philosophy. With virtue equal to that of Confucius and his dear disciple Yan Yuan, I could make my prince rival of Kings Yao and Shun. Think you I can discuss these things on even share a table with common people?”.

The novel continues with the story of Mi Heng's nude drum performance, and finishes his story by claiming that Cao Cao laughed after hearing of the death of Mi Heng, implied that he had sent him to Jing Province knowing very well that he would die there, and called him a "rotten pedant, done in by his own sharp tongue."[15][16]

Modern references[edit]

In the Romance of the Three Kingdoms video game series by Koei, he is one of the sages wandering China. He is depicted in the game as insulting and arrogant.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fan Ye, Book of the Later Han, chapter 80, p 2652
  2. ^ Pei Songzhi ed., Annotated Records of the Three Kingdoms, chapter 21, p 603. Kong Rong's friendship with Mi Heng, and this exchange in particular, were used against him in Lu Cui's (路粹) memorial enumerating Kong Rong's crimes, upon which his execution was officially based.
  3. ^ Li Shan (李善), Annotated Selected Literature, chapter 37, Recommendation of Mi Heng
  4. ^ Fan Ye, Book of the Later Han, chapter 80, p 2653
  5. ^ Fan Ye, Book of the Later Han, chapter 80, p 2656
  6. ^ Sima Guang et al., Zizhi Tongjian, chapter 62, p 1993
  7. ^ Fan Ye, Book of the Later Han, chapter 80, p 2657
  8. ^ Fan Ye, Book of the Later Han, chapter 80, p 2657–8
  9. ^ Li Shan ed., Annotated Selected Literature, chapter 13, pp 611–15
  10. ^ Fan Ye, Book of the Later Han, chapter 80, p 2655
  11. ^ Fan Ye, Book of the Later Han, chapter 80, p 2656
  12. ^ Li Fang et al., ed., Taiping Yulan, chapter 466, p 2145
  13. ^ Li Fang et al., ed., Taiping Yulan, chapter 26, p 125
  14. ^ Cao Yin (曹寅), Peng Dingqiu (彭定求), et al., ed. Quantangshi, chapter 181, p 1848
  15. ^ Moss Roberts, Three Kingdoms, pp 387–395
  16. ^ Luo Guanzhong, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, pp 152–54